Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Excel Services : Alternative / Replacement for SSRS ( SQL Server Reporting Services ) from a User Experience perspective

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SSRS is the reporting backbone in the MS BI stack. SSRS has acquired more grace in terms of visualizations by the dundas license, but there are some areas of SSRS which are highly limited in features from a user experience perspective. Any technology is perceived by the user ( who is the end client funding the technology procurement and use ) based on how well is the usage experience followed by performance, especially when the deliverable out of the technology is the face of the solution i.e. reports in case of SSRS.

In most of the environments, you would find SSRS deployed over Sharepoint. It can be either in sharepoint integrated mode, or there would be SSRS Report viewer web part accessing reports deployed on report server. Some of the serious limitations of SSRS, from the user experience perspective are as follows:

1) Parameter toolbar in SSRS report is non-programmable. Say if you have 12-15 parameters and your report returns just 10 records, it can be the case that the length of report toolbar would be equal or more than the length of the report as the toolbar would always display parameters in two columns.

2) On the report body, once the data is dumped, there is no way to filter this data. For example, in a report where I have 100 records, and I do not want to use pagination. On these 100 records if I want to filter records based on a criteria, those filters needs to be pre decided as would have to be implemented as report parameters. User's do not get flexibility to decide the filter / formula at will.

3) There is very limited amount of interactivity available on the report. For example, once report is generated at client end that is having a graph and a table of records related to it, there is almost no interaction possible on this piece of data. Users would want a what-if analysis on almost all reports where a graphical visualization that reflects some sort of comparison is used.

Considering the above points, the answer from Excel Services can be as follows:

1) Excel Services can accept parameter values from Filter web part, and you can customize this web part to a great extent. SSRS reports can also work on same theory, but programming needs to be done to pass the parameter values to SSRS reports. Even Report viewer web part can accept parameters from filter web part, but the report needs to be designed and configured in that way.

2) Excel web access web part provides all the kind of filtering capabilities that excel provides, and it easily outperforms SSRS report user experience. You can easily filter values on the report for each fields in the report.

3) One of the best part of excel services based report is it facilitates what-if analysis in a very interactive manner. User can key in parameter values which appears in a dockable sidebar, and everything on the report can change in an interactive manner without making server trips.

Whether Excel Services is better or SSRS is better, would remain a debatable topic. But Excel Services definitely wins over SSRS, in the User Experience category.

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